Tag Archives: Christmas

may we all have our hopes, our will to try

“Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…”

“Happy New Year” – ABBA

You know how much I love ABBA and how they have a song for every possible situation and event in life. “Happy New Year” (recorded in 1980 for the “Super Trouper” album but not released as a single until 1999) feels apropos at the conclusion of this godforsaken year. And before you chastise me for being one of those miserable souls complaining how horrible 2016 was, I know it wasn’t entirely awful; some good things did occur. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017. I speak of the political, of course, since such events have been so dominant this year and will be into the next. As focused as I am on that (and will continue to be), this was an extremely difficult, stressful, overwhelmingly hard year for our immediate family on many levels. There have been a lot of losses — namely the financial and professional, but also changes with longtime friendships and some emotional and medical setbacks. I’ve gone into this in previous posts and most of it is better left off the blog, but suffice it to say this year has been a tough one.

Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling
The silver lining of not being able to afford a summer vacation means that I had an abundance of “use them or lose them” vacation days from work. So, I’ve been using them to catch up on TV shows, read a book or two, and spend some time with friends and family.

I’ve been binge-watching “This Is Us” and all of you who were telling me how much I would love this show were absolutely right. I know it’s been compared to “Parenthood”, but for me, it feels more like “thirtysomething”, for those of us who are old enough to remember watching that show, which was set in Philadelphia and ran from 1987-1991. Ken Olin, who played Michael Steadman on “thirtysomething” and directed several episodes, happens to be the executive producer of “This Is Us.”  Regardless, this is my kind of show and I love everything about it — the writing, the actors, the music, and (of course) the Pittsburgh setting.

Over Christmas, we spent some time back in Philly. It was a trip heavy on the nostalgia factor, which can be both good as well as unsettling. I had long, heartfelt conversations with two special people who I don’t see nearly enough, drove streets I haven’t been on for more than a decade, attended the Christmas Eve service at my former UU congregation with people who sustained us during some tough days long ago.  The Girl and I visited the family at the cemetery and I told her stories of those long gone. She and I had a delicious mother-daughter Christmas Day dinner at my all-time favorite restaurants, an unassuming gourmet Chinese place tucked in a suburban Philadelphia strip mall, the scene of many a date night back in The Husband and my glory days.

Moments That Mattered
So much of this holiday season wasn’t perfect (what is?) but many moments were pretty good. And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany — just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper.

Here’s some of what was good about this year:

I stepped up my writing game a bit this year with several book reviews published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and on Shelf Awareness.

Both kids made the honor roll this past semester.

I spent an inspiring and joyful day in my hometown connecting with my MRKH sisters.

I started running, at age 47, and discovered it’s not like high school gym class after all and, as such, I really like it.

Related to the running, I’ve lost 11 pounds.

A friend sent a generous gift.

I got to see Hillary Clinton the day before the election, and was close enough to wave and holler thank you.

Our cat made it through her dental surgery. (All of her teeth, sans two, needed to be removed.)

I went back to church.

And this. Oh my God, this … this absolute highlight of my year.

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016 cast, pre-show toast before our May 6, 2016 performance. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

Being in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments — not only of 2016, but of my LIFE — and it will remain that way for me forever. I stepped way, way out of my comfort zone by auditioning for a chance to tell 500 strangers the most personal, intimate, defining story of my life in a performance shared via YouTube. (No pressure or anxiety there.) It was an experience that changed me. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year.

I hope that 2016 held some good moments for you, too. Without a doubt, it has been quite the year — and the one we’re headed into is, I’m afraid, going to be one where we will see some unprecedented moments that will change all of us. We will keep on going anyway, because, really, what other choice do we have?

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s ABBA to take us out.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbor is a friend
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

sunday salon/currently … need a little christmas now

Sunday Salon banner

christmas-tree-2016

Our tree went up this afternoon, and you can see it there, above, tucked between the sofa and the old half-broken chair where I write this (and every other blog post) in our mismatched and oddly-configured living quarters.  I’m hoping the presence of the tree raises my spirits a bit and gets me more into a proper Christmas mindset, whatever and wherever that might be.  I’m just not feeling it this season.

It’s everything and not just one thing — there’s the election aftermath, of course, with its accompanying stew of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger I feel on a daily, constant basis. I know — and I don’t really care — that I’m one of Those People whom others are frustrated with for what appears to be an inability to move on and accept this new reality. Believe me, I wish I could find some peace with this. I wish I could be all optimistic and hopeful but I can’t. I wish I didn’t give a damn.

I’m finding it hard to focus, which makes reading a bit of a challenge. I didn’t finish anything this week. However, November was a pretty decent reading month with six books read.

shut-up-and-runthe-rain-in-portugalmothering-sunday

springtime-a-ghost-storyborn-to-runhouse-of-silence

I’m at 40 books read for the year, which is my lowest total since 2008 (when I read a measly 28 books!) and the year I started blogging.  I’ll be happy if I reach 45 books. We’ll see.

Not much else to say today.  Hope all is well in your world and that you have a good week.

 

Sunday Salon/Currently … Thankfully Reading, Christmas Music, and #turnonthelight

Sunday Salon banner

We’re back from a quick (less than 48 hours!) trip to Philadelphia, where we spent Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. If you read yesterday’s post recapping that visit, you know this holiday had special meaning this year.

It’s also been an extended break from work for me; I’m off from work through Tuesday, thanks to an abundance of vacation days needing to be used before year’s end with still more time off at the end of the year. Nothing is planned for today except church and grocery shopping. Tomorrow’s fun includes a follow up visit to the vet — our cat had dental surgery two weeks ago and all of her teeth needed to be removed, except for two.  She’s made a remarkable recovery and is doing well so hopefully this will be an uneventful check up.

Thankfully Reading
ThankfullyReading2014Because of the Philly trip, I didn’t have a chance to participate as much in Jenn’s Bookshelves annual Thankfully Reading Weekend event as I would have liked. This is one of my favorite bookish happenings because it’s a no-rules, whatever works for you kind of thing. Since I’m jumping in late (officially signing up with this post as Thankfully Reading concludes) I’m extending my participation into Monday.

Here’s what I read this week:

born-to-runspringtime-a-ghost-storyhouse-of-silence

As a Springsteen fan, I was pretty sure I would like Born to Run — and oh my, did I ever. At its conclusion, Bruce (I feel I can call him Bruce) writes that he hasn’t revealed everything about himself in this memoir, but you definitely come away from this feeling like you know him and his music in a whole new way. A must-read for Bruce fans and one that will be on my Best of 2016 list (in just a few short weeks!).

Springtime: A Ghost Story is a bit of an odd novella by Michelle de Kretser, an Australian novelist who was born in Sri Lanka. Frances is a 28 year old woman living in Sydney with her partner Charlie. She sees a ghost while walking her dog and … that’s about it. I liked the concept of a ghost story in springtime, but this felt more like an unfinished short story.

Last night I finished House of Silence, a debut historical fiction/mystery/romance novel by Sarah Barthels. This is a review book, so I can’t say much more until after its December 27 publication date.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I have several books in progress and another review book on the docket so probably one of those.

One thing I’ve been reading more of is The New York Times. I decided that something I can do in this post-election world is to support quality journalism by subscribing to the NYT. (We also subscribe to our local paper.)  They had a deal last week where a subscription was $10 per month. For that price, I can forego a few breakfast bowls or afternoon coffees at work.

Need a Little Christmas Now … 
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, The Husband puts on Christmas music and listens to nothing else until January 2. (The two exceptions are November 29 and December 8 when he plays George Harrison and John Lennon nonstop, respectively, in honor of those two greats.) The Christmas music, though, usually drives me crazy. I can handle it in small doses.  Not this year. I’ve downloaded a bunch of new tunes from Spotify and am cranking up the holly right along with him.

#turnonthelight …
Our friends Jason and Rachel have launched The Holiday Lights Project  #turnonthelight to bring more kindness and joy into the lives of those around us.  They’re doing this in a big but quiet way, as is their style. They’re the folks who, while having breakfast at IHOP, pick up the tab for everyone in THE WHOLE RESTAURANT, not just the table next to them.  They load up gift cards with hundreds of dollars and hand it to a cashier, instructing them to pay for everyone’s coffee until it runs out. And they do this year-round.  (I know, because we’ve been the recipients of Jason and Rachel’s generosity many times.)

Obviously, we all don’t have the financial means to do this.  We certainly don’t. But we can all do what we can, even in a small way. (For example: since we weren’t going to be home for Thanksgiving, I donated some pumpkin pie filling and canned vegetables I’d purchased to the food pantry at church.) Jason’s post gives some inspiration for how we can all fight darkness with a little light, regardless of our status and station in life.

I hope your Sunday and the week ahead is filled with more light and less darkness. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for all my blog readers. Whether you’re a newcomer to the blog or someone who has been reading for the past eight years, I’m very appreciative for you and your friendship. Thanks for being here! 

currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

and i do come home at christmas

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying, misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between thick plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights, until we stop at last ….” ~ Charles Dickens

We traveled across the state, over low-lying, misty, foggy hills. Into a brief blue of dawn and the brume of day.

There are sugar cookies waiting. Books for reading.  Dinner plans with friends who are like family. Who are our family.

It is good to be home.

 

currently …jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling

Christmas 2012 (30)

poinsettia, at my mom’s

“It’s that time, Christmas time is here
Everybody knows, there’s not a better time of year
Hear that sleigh, Santa’s on his way
Hip, hip hooray, for Christmas vacation

Gotta a ton of stuff to celebrate
(Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling)
Now it’s getting closer, I can’t wait
(Jang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-lang)
Gonna make this holiday as perfect as can be
Just wait and see this Christmas vacation.” 
~ “Christmas Vacation” ~ written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, performed by Mavis Staples

Currently …
Quiet Sunday afternoon here, with the usual football on TV (we’ll get to see the Eagles tonight!) reading the papers and blogs, and a simmering crockpot on the counter.  I’m on the third day of a stubborn headache which isn’t responding much to the usual remedies (Advil, lots of water, several doses of my prescription Maxalt) but hopefully this disappears soon.  I know I had some gluten on several occasions last week, so that could be to blame along with the crazy weather. After near-record highs last week, colder (and more seasonal) weather has returned — along with the first dusting of snow —  but I’m hearing that the warmth may be making a comeback for Christmas.

Vacationing …
Thanks to having an abundance of use-’em-or-lose-’em vacation days remaining this year, I’m off from work until January 4!  (There’s one day that I’m planning to head into the office, but I’m anticipating that will be fairly casual and low-key.) Since the time off that I had at Thanksgiving was spent in the hospital with The Husband, I’m more than ready for this. I’m very much looking forward to a week of downtime with family, friends, maybe a movie or two, and some good books.

The WitchesReading …
Not much this week, actually. Still working on The Witches. This is good, but taking forever to get through.

Watching …
Speaking of Christmas vacations, last year we introduced the kids to the classic “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” We watched it again on Friday.  I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve watched more than once (I’m not big on repeating many things) but this is one of them.

Not Watching …
Who else is completely uninterested in anything related to Star Wars? I saw the first three when I was little, and they never held much of an appeal for me. I remember having a Princess Leia doll but that’s about it. None of the three people I live with have any desire to see it either, which is good. (It’s also good for clearing out a lot of posts in my Feedly!)

Cooking …
I’m making a new crockpot recipe today (Yellow Split Pea Chowder) from 5 Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook by Stephanie O’Dea. I’m using Trader Joe’s vegetarian soy chorizo in this, which is a new ingredient for us.

(Update: Of the four of us, only The Husband liked it. Too spicy for my taste.)

Shopping …
We’re only buying for the kids this year. No adults, so that helps. My kids usually don’t ask for very much at all, which makes them difficult to shop for. I have iTunes gift cards for both kids as well as our nephews and niece. I’m probably going to go shopping tomorrow and get a few little things, plus some clothes that they need.

Anticipating … 
Christmas week with family and friends!

Currently: 12 Days Before Christmas Countdown

Currently…
I’ve been loving these warm temperatures this weekend. We’re talking close to 70 degrees yesterday and today! Of course, it was somewhat overcast (this is Pittsburgh, after all) but it was nice to run errands without a heavy coat. I would love weather like this all winter long and if we never see a speck of snow, that would be perfectly fine with me.

Anticipating…
It may not feel like Christmas weather-wise, but I’m more than ready for it. (Not so much regarding the shopping part. That I’m not ready for at all, as usual.) I wound up with a lot of extra vacation days this year (that’s the plus-side of our cancelled San Diego trip earlier this fall, I suppose). I’m definitely looking forward to some time off, starting this Friday.

Reading…
Between the World and MeThis week I finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which seems to be on all the “Best Of” the year book lists. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s going to be on mine, too. Although I’ve started compiling my year-end wrap up lists, I’m not planning to post them until closer to the end of the month because there are a few more that I’m hoping to get to that may be Best Of contenders that I’m hoping to get to — especially since I’m hoping for some additional reading time.

I thought Between the World and Me was such a powerful, affecting book. Coates wrote this memoir as a letter to his 15-year-old son about “his awakening to the truth about his place in the world” as an African-American man. He writes eloquently of his childhood, his time attending Howard University, the influences that helped him gain his perspective on history, and a college acquaintance named Prince Jones who was killed following a police chase through three counties.  A journalist, Coates weaves current events into his and his son’s reality.   Highly recommended.

Cooking…
I’m so proud of myself. Not only did I create a meal plan before going to the grocery store today, but my meal plan spans into next week. I want to use up all of our perishables in the fridge before the holidays, so that necessitated some pre-planning.  Unfortunately tonight’s dinner did not turn out well — and the irony was that it was a baked macaroni and cheese recipe that I haven’t made for years. Go figure.  I’m pursuing two cookbooks from the library that look promising:  5 Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook by Stephanie O’Dea and At My Table by Mary McCartney. Maybe I should have chosen something from one of those.

Hope you had a great weekend!